Dr. Albert C. Barnes was a Renaissance man: physician, chemist, businessman, art collector, prolific writer. Born in Philadelphia in 1872, he graduated from medical school and continued studies in chemistry in Germany. There he and a chemist colleague, Herman Hille, developed an antiseptic silver nitrate compound they named Argyrol. It was used in the treatment of gonorrhea and the prevention of gonorrheal blindness in newborn infants. Prior to antibiotics, Argyrol was a miracle drug.
Argyrol made Albert Barnes’s fortune, particularly after he bought out his partner’s share and sold the company for millions of dollars.
Barnes thrived in “retirement” as he dedicated all his attention to what he loved best; collecting, studying and writing six books on art and education. His mantra was: “Living with and studying good paintings offers greater interest, variety and satisfaction than any other pleasure known to man”.
In 1922 he established The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania as an educational institution based on his art collection that he housed in a mansion designed by Paul Philippe Cret. He personally hung the collection that concentrated on Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings according to his theories on aesthetics in groupings he called “ensembles”. Amidst the paintings he placed Asian, African and American art and artifacts according to his personal vision and idiosyncratic ideas.
Barnes grew The Barnes Foundation collection to 2500 pieces, among them 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, 178 Renoirs, many Rousseaus, Modiglianis, Seurats, Degases, van Goghs, that he hung, arranged, re-hung and re-arranged among his hand-crafted items, furniture and paintings of different eras.
Limited access was allowed to the public during Barnes’s lifetime and after he was killed in a car accident in 1951, his will stated that The Barnes Foundation was to remain an educational art institution open to the public only a few days a week. The collection was never to be loaned or sold and was to remain in its Lower Merion location exactly as he left it.
When the upkeep and conservation of the collection became too costly, The Barnes Foundation, after many court battles, received permission to tour 80 works to generate operating funds for the Foundation. After many more years of “warfare” the courts allowed the Foundation to move the entire collection into a magnificent new building designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of New York. The art works, now worth $20 – $30 billion, are hung and arranged exactly as Dr. Barnes left them but the public can now visit and admire his magnificent collection on a full time basis.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9:30AM – 6:00PM Friday: 9:30AM – 10:00PM
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Admission: Adults: $18. Seniors: $15. Students/Youth: $10.
Tel: (215) 278-7000 www.barnesfoundation.org